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National News

January 31, 2013

Green thumb? Wash. state looks for pot consultant

TACOMA, Wash. — Wanted: A green thumb with extensive knowledge of the black, or at least gray, market.

As Washington state tries to figure out how to regulate its newly legal marijuana, officials are hiring an adviser on all things weed: how it’s best grown, dried, tested, labeled, packaged and cooked into brownies.

Sporting a mix of flannel, ponytails and suits, dozens of those angling for the job turned out Wednesday for a forum in Tacoma, several of them from out of state. The Liquor Control Board, the agency charged with developing rules for the marijuana industry, reserved a convention center hall for a state bidding expert to take questions about the position and the hiring process.

“Since it’s not unlikely with this audience, would a felony conviction preclude you from this contract?” asked Rose Habib, an analytical chemist from a marijuana testing lab in Missoula, Mont.

The answer: It depends. A pot-related conviction is probably fine, but a “heinous felony,” not so much, responded John Farley, a procurement coordinator with the Liquor Control Board.

Washington and Colorado this fall became the first states to pass laws legalizing the recreational use of marijuana and setting up systems of state-licensed growers, processors and retail stores where adults over 21 can walk in and buy up to an ounce of heavily taxed cannabis.

Both states are working to develop rules for the emerging pot industry. Up in the air is everything from how many growers and stores there should be, to how the marijuana should be tested to ensure people don’t get sick.

Sales are due to begin in Washington state in December.

Washington’s Liquor Control Board has a long and “very good” history with licensing and regulation, spokesman Mikhail Carpenter said.

“But there are some technical aspects with marijuana we could use a consultant to help us with,” Carpenter said.

The board has advertised for consulting services in four categories. The first is “product and industry knowledge” and requires “at least three years of consulting experience relating to the knowledge of the cannabis industry, including but not limited to product growth, harvesting, packaging, product infusion and product safety.”

Other categories cover quality testing, including how to test for levels of THC, the compound that gets marijuana users high; statistical analysis of how much marijuana the state’s licensed growers should produce; and the development of regulations, a category that requires a “strong understanding of state, local or federal government processes,” with a law degree preferred.

Farley said the state hopes to award a single contract covering all four categories, but if no bidder or team of bidders has expertise in all fields— regulatory law, statistical analysis and pot growing — multiple contracts could be awarded. Or bidders who are strong in one category could team up with those who are strong in another. Bids are due Feb. 15, with the contract awarded in March.

Habib, the chemist, said she’s part of a team of marijuana and regulatory experts from Montana who are bidding for the contract. They’re fed up with federal raids on medical dispensaries there.

“We want to move here and make it work. We want to be somewhere this is moving forward and being embraced socially,” she said.

Khurshid Khoja, a suited corporate lawyer from San Francisco, sat beside a balding, ponytailed man in a gray sweatshirt — Ed Rosenthal, a co-founder of High Times magazine and a recognized expert on marijuana cultivation. They’re on a team bidding for the contract.

“I’ve seen the effect of regulation of marijuana all my life,” Khoja said. “I’d like to see a more rational, scientific approach to it.”

Several people asked whether winning the contract, or even subcontracting with the winning bidder, would preclude them from getting state licenses to grow, process or sell cannabis. Farley said yes: It would pose a conflict of interest to have the consultant helping develop the regulations being subject to those rules. But once the contract has expired, they could apply for state marijuana licenses, he said.

After the questions ended, the bidders mingled, exchanging business cards and talking about how they might team up. One Seattle-area marijuana grower, a college student who declined to give his name after noting that a dispensary he worked with had been raided by federal authorities in 2011, approached Rosenthal.

“It would be my dream to smoke a bowl with you after this,” he said.

Johnson can be reached on Twitter.

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